Madison schools look to lengthen lunch period

MADISON (WKOW) -- 20 minutes to sit and eat lunch. That's what parents want for their kids at schools in Madison. 

Right now, each school in the Madison Metropolitan School District can decide how to split up 30 minutes between lunch and recess. Some kids only get 15 minutes to wait in line for food and eat it. 

Laura Jacques says her kids come home from school with food they didn't get a chance to eat. Jacques, who's also a doctor, says 15 minutes is not enough time for kids to make healthy choices. 

"From an early age, if we have students with lunch times that are shorter than 20 minutes, they're not going to be learning that important factor of eating until you're full and then stopping," Jacques told 27 News. 

She says this could be contributing to a rise in obesity in Madison and a health equity issue. Kids who bring their own lunch have more time to sit and eat it and socialize with their friends. Children who are in the reduced lunch program have to wait in line for food, leaving them less than 10 minutes to eat in some cases. "[The students] may have trouble the rest of the day with behavior because they're hungry, they may have trouble focusing on their work in school, because they're hungry," Jacques said.

Parents took their concerns to school board members at a committee meeting Monday night. They're considering a plan to update the district's wellness policy. It would move towards 20 minutes for kids to be able to sit and eat, not including travel time to the lunchroom or time waiting in line. If approved, the schools will have to rearrange schedules to make extra time for lunch."

There may be places that there is room, so it's just more so, needing that time to analyze everything and really see how we can make this work the best for the whole day schedule not just the lunch time," said Ashley Riley, physical education, health and wellness coordinator with MMSD.

Riley says the school officials who put together the proposed policy changes consulted with doctors like Jacques, along with other community members. During the meeting, the group discussed setting a deadline for schools to create plans to adjust the lunch hour, in response to the parents' concerns. 

The policy changes also address other wellness issues, including physical activity and nutrition, but also taking a more holistic approach to wellness. It goes beyond meeting federal requirements, addressing social-emotional learning, health services, counseling and employee wellness, according to Riley.

Another doctor spoke to the board members at the meeting, urging them to consider daily physical education as a goal. 

"For some students, their time at school is the only time they have a safe place to be physically active," said Dr. Alison Brooks. 

The policy adds a requirement that all elementary schools offer at least 30 minutes of recess every day and middle schools will work to improve scheduling to allow students 30 minutes a day, too. It also adds a statement on making appropriate accommodations for equitable participation in phys ed classes.

The full school board will vote on the wellness policy next Monday.

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